In what has become a ruthless and cold hearted business, it is rare enough these days for managers to be fondly remembered by most of their former clubs after their eventual sacking.
Mick McCarthy seems to be one of the few managers in my time supporting the club that left with the best wishes of our supporters - and today we celebrate his 64th birthday.
The Irishman’s three year spell as Sunderland’s manager came at a time of the club being in turmoil on and off the pitch.
After departing the Republic of Ireland job in acrimonious circumstances following the fall out of his spat with Roy Keane in the 2002 World Cup, McCarthy was the chosen one to pick up the pieces after Howard Wilkinson’s diabolical time in charge.
With the club already facing relegation, his task was to revamp a squad of fallen stars and high earners with lower league signings and cheap experienced pros.
Departing were the likes of Kevin Phillips, Kevin Kilbane, Claudio Reyna - with the likes of Gary Breen, Jeff Whitley and Alan Quinn coming in to replace them.
McCarthy’s first full season in charge was a respectable one. After avoiding the record for the most defeats in English football against Preston in the third game of the season, McCarthy’s team began to find some consistency which led them to finishing 3rd in the table, with a play off semi final defeat to Crystal Palace in heartbreaking circumstances along with a run in the FA Cup where we lost to Milwall in the semi finals at Old Trafford.
The next season, the club went one better winning the league after amassing 94 points. With Marcus Stewart’s and Stephen Elliott’s scoring prowess up top and McCarthy’s shrewed signings in Carl Robinson, Dean Whitehead and Liam Lawrence, Sunderland looked a real side throughout the season.
McCarthy’s ability to get the best out of his players with his man management ability was a key factor in the team’s success in that particular season. With many young players joining the club, McCarthy took care of them - and they repaid his faith with their performances.
Dean Whitehead - one of McCarthy’s best signings - stated as much when he did an interview with the Roker Report a while back.
Mick trusted in your ability.
He would really help you along and bring the best out in you. If you had any concerns or any worries, he was an open and honest person.
You could approach and speak to him and players respond to that. He would have those discussions and he’d put your mind at ease.
His approach to players gave you confidence, and any young player going into a huge club needs that from his manager. He helped us all massively.
The signings of Whitehead, Lawrence and Elliott were all masterstrokes given very little was known about any of these players. Whitehead in particular turned out to be a very good servant to the club, whilst Elliott and Lawrence scored some big goals - like the one below.
Unfortunately, the 2005-06 season was an extremely difficult one. With Bob Murray looking to sell the club, finances were scarce which led to McCarthy buying players on the cheap. In contrast to his signings in Division One, his success rate was a lot lower this time with players such as Kelvin Davis, Andy Gray, Jonathan Stead and Christian Bassila failing to make any sort of impression on the team.
Garnering only 15 points, the team struggled - and McCarthy strangely got the sack with ten games to go with the club’s fortunes almost basically decided.
He will be fondly remembered for being the man who took the job in one of the more difficult times (of which there has been a few) of the club’s recent history.
I always had a feeling he could have returned for another spell to the club - and it was reported that he did want the job after Lee Johnson got sacked, but he never received a call back.
‘I applied for it this time around,’ McCarthy said.
‘As soon as Lee Johnson — sadly for him — got the sack, I stuck my name in straight away.
‘I said “oh I’ll take it to the end of the season”, (but) I did not even get a call back!’
Now at Blackpool, we wish Mick all the best for the rest of the season now that we have played the Tangerines twice - and a Happy Birthday for today!